Who is Kalu & The Electric Joint?
Kalu and the Electric Joint blend the powers of psychedelic soul music with the driving beat of rock and roll and the ancient rhythms of Africa. This musical chemistry comes from the bond forged by frontman Kalu James, who emigrated from Nigeria at age 18 to claim Austin as his new home, and guitarist Jonathan “JT” Holt, who adds a touch of American soul to Kalu’s West African heritage. Kalu and JT connected through the hustle of the Austin music scene, writing songs together and discovering immediately that the talents of each complemented the other. The musicians honed their vision during a weekly residency at Austin’s Continental Club Gallery that was initially intended to last only a month but eventually stretched to three years. Drummer and percussionist, John Speice, who had a longstanding Austin connection with JT, had spent his life mastering rhythms Kalu had grown up with, making him a perfect fit for the group.
Time Undone, Kalu and the Electric Joint’s forthcoming album, testifies to the band’s talent and mission with tight arrangements, stunning vocals and a deep well of influences. The album is sonically woven with the low-end theory of hip-hop, yet it has the drive of heavy-hitting rock and roll and futuristic psychedelia. Kalu and JT wrote the album’s songs, perfecting them during their nights at the Continental Club Gallery. The group recorded the album with producer Brett Orrison, known for his work with The Black Angels and Widespread panic, over a year’s time at Nest Recording in Driftwood, Texas. The album features guest appearances by members of Widespread Panic, The War on Drugs, The Sword, and Grupo Fantasma. With deep lyrics, ethereal arrangements, youthful exuberance, and a positive message, Kalu and the Electric Joint make a lasting impression on everyone who hears them.
Starting with the sounds of his homeland and a lifelong passion for the unorthodox approach, Kalu blazes an inclusive trail for himself that could not be more genuine. He embraces not only the creative attitude of his adopted hometown but also the traditions of his past. Remaining deeply in tune with the traditions of his upbringing, he balances his responsibilities to his family in Nigeria while pursuing his calling in the U.S. Having recently become an American citizen, he’s ready to add to this country’s greatest export – its music.
Whether seeing Kalu and the Electric Joint throw it down in the clubs of Austin’s bustling South Congress scene or hearing the music of Time Undone for the first time, it’s blatantly obvious that this music evokes a wide range of emotions. This band comes to play and when they do, the dance floor never stays empty.
AMF Exclusive Interview
with Kalu James
What was it like moving from Nigeria to Austin when you were 18? How did you get connected in the local music scene?
Correction, I actually moved from Nigeria to New York first and got an education there before moving to Austin in 2007. I cut my teeth at Open Mics all around Austin eventually connecting with a house band of musicians at Ruta Maya that lead to recording an album with them and they became my live band. With a band, more doors opened to play at more prestigious venues.
You honed your vision for the band through your residency at the Continental Club. What was supposed to be a four-week residency stretched into three years! What’s the story behind that?
Through the journey of playing around town and randomly dating a set of twins, I met my dear friend & co-conspirator, JT Holt, who is the band director, Co-writer & lead guitarist of Kalu & The Electric Joint. Something was different about my relationship with JT. We inspired each other, had a shared reality of where we wanted our music to go and unbeknownst to us began the formation of The Electric Joint at that weekly residency at the Continental Club Gallery.
We started recording our weekly shows for further analysis, put everything we individually made weekly into a bank account and watched it grow. This meant getting “real jobs” & doing a lot of private gigs to allot us the ability to play with the musicians we wanted on our corner, revamp our sound, image and ultimately afford not only to record but with a producer, Brett Orrison (Widespread Panic, The Black Angels).
Your music is a blend of psychedelia, soul, and classic blues rock. How did you find your unique sound?
The sound of the Electric Joint is an ever-evolving process accessed by letting music happen without boundaries or intent to be anything other than what it actually is in that moment. Influences of all kinds step forward as we let it be.
You just released your latest album, Time Undone, earlier this month. What was the songwriting, recording and mastering processes like? How did it differ from the music you’ve previously put out? Were there any surprises along the way?
The process of making Time Undone from a studio perspective was definitely a departure from how we had done it in the past. We brought in Brett Orrison as producer and all set forth a common vision based on the songs we selected. We spent several straight months in the studio vs rushing the process in any way.
The album is speckled with guest appearances from members of Widespread Panic, The War on Drugs, The Sword, and Grupo Fantasma. What was it like working on these different collaborations?
There are many names (Nick Jay (bass player on most of the tracks)) that aren’t showing up here so I have to state that The Electric Joint family is a collective of musicians that we admire who have contributed to us being who we are.
Brett Orrison (producer) had a lot to do with that. He is currently the FOH (Front of House) for Widespread Panic and, during the demo stages, had been showing these songs to the band. Dave Schools fell in love with “Stay” and wanted to be on the track. And of course, we said yes! This opened the door to Jon Natchez adding horns on it as well.
Bryan Ritchie (The Sword) is a personal friend of Brett as well and loved the songs that he willingly stepped into tracking synths & bass on some tracks.
John Speice (Grupo Fantasma, Brownout, Money Chicha, etc) & Alex Marrero (Brownout, Brown Sabbath, Mudphonic) had joined us during the residency on percussions & drums.
What’s your favorite song off the new album?
The record means so much as a whole to us that it’s hard to tear it apart. But, the track “Stay” was a really exciting process because it was almost entirely constructed in the studio and really took its own direction.
Where does your passion for performing and writing music stem from? From where do you draw your influences?
It’s the need to express ourselves and write our story, and hopefully give someone else a voice through those actions. Passion for music happens because, well… more like it just “is”. It is its own driving force and as musicians, we accept it and share it through our own voice. It’s not a fabricated or learned “passion”, and typically operates on its own terms and time frame. One thing is for sure, life without it just ain’t right. but that’s real.
Favorite venue to perform at in Austin?
We are so lucky to have so many venues and staff that actually care about all the details of a show that it’s hard to say one in particular: The Continental Club, Antones, 3TEN, One-2-One, Mohawk, Saxon Pub. They all have their own flavor and in some way contributes to how the show “feels”.
Hot off the press, you’re on the cover of the mid-December issue of the Austin Chronicle. What does that recognition mean to you as someone who has been a member of the Austin music scene for so long?
The cover is an affirmation that people have been paying attention to the work you put in. For that, I am beyond humbled and grateful especially in a city like Austin where there are many deserving artists. To be honest, it felt a bit lonely not having my co-conspirator, JT Holt, side by side on the cover. He deserves every bit of recognition for steering this ship.
If you could give one piece of advice to 18-year-old Kalu, what would it be?
Remain kind, Do the work, Be patient yet present, because you are exactly where you need to be.
How did you get involved with AMF?
Just like HAAM & SIMS, AMF is a great resource for Austin musicians and we always have them on our radar & continue to show up for everything from events to seminars about copyrights & the Taxman. These organizations make up the three-legged stool of support for Austin Musicians and we are so grateful to have them here.
Any big shows coming up for you?
In March, We are playing the Pot of Gold Festival in Arizona on the same day as PHIL LESH from the Grateful Dead, Sturgill Simpson, St. Paul & The Broken Bones, and many more.
What’s next? What does 2018 hold for Kalu & The Electric Joint?
A lot of driving, shitty motels and gas station food. It is really about putting this music forth to a national audience through touring and we can’t wait because a Joint is best shared! We are excited for what the future holds
We’re so excited to have Kalu & The Electric Joint as our December Artist of the Month. Take a listen below and follow them on Facebook HERE, Twitter HERE, and Instagram HERE or visit their website HERE.